Matt Marshall

17 Posts with Tag minimalism (All tags)

A List of Stuff I Own (May 2018)

I recently decided to do an inventory of all my things that I have in my flat. This list is meant to represent a snapshot of how things look when I'm at home on an average evening / day. I'm sure I've left stuff out. The goal is to post something like this every so often and reflect on the things I have.

This list is organised by location, and then sublocation. It's designed to help me make sense of where my clutter lives. I've left out wall decorations, house plants, and clothes; as I want to make a separate post about clothes and the others are carefully curated anyway.

A quick Ctrl+F of the source code for this post reveals I have 282 items. I want to be clear I don't think there is a magic number of items I'm trying to achieve, but this is a lot more than I expected. And I haven't even considered clothes.


Walls + Floor

  • hiking / day-wear boots
  • 'deck' shoes
  • training shoes
  • black washcloth
  • tenugui handtowel
  • black handtowel
  • 5x reusable carrier bags, assorted capacities
  • 2x black bandanas


  • rope
  • bergen backpack
  • canvas satchel
  • travel compact clothes bag
  • laundry basket
  • day bag

Door hanger

  • thermal jacket
  • shemagh / keffiyeh: western-style (brown)
  • shemagh / keffiyeh: saudi style (red + white, dyed black)
  • shemagh / keffiyeh: palestine style (black + white, tassled)
  • polish
  • black hoodie


  • dremel + bits
  • drill bits
  • sinew thread
  • leather awl
  • thick needle assortment
  • respirator
  • respirator
  • safety goggles
  • plant seeds
  • drill bit set
  • plant food
  • mess tins
  • large camping knife
  • corded drill
  • pyrography set
  • scrap leather (used as protection when carving)
  • stock leatger (10mm and 4mm thicknesses)
  • assorted sandpaper sheets
  • measuring jug
  • steel ruler
  • files x3
  • assorted plastic ring sizers
  • blowtorch head
  • IKEA furniture keys
  • coping saw
  • hacksaw
  • fancy dipping pen
  • yarn + naalbinding needle
  • tin camping mug
  • talc powder
  • waterproof poncho
  • store brand disinfectant
  • butane gas
  • silicon waterproofing spray
  • surface cleaner
Large tin used for storage
  • 13x assorted pieces of bone (cleaned, stock for carving)
  • vanilla fragrance Oil
  • mango fragrance oil
  • apple fragance oil
  • 100ml amber bottle with dropper
  • 3x 50ml amber bottle
  • 3x ingots of beeswax (~2g each)
  • screwdriver w/ wooden handle
  • 35 ml measuring cup
  • 2x steel hipflask fillers (for pouring oil)
  • 2x pencils
  • 2x rolls of electrical tape
  • ram's horn (cleaned)
  • lump of calcite (carving stock)
  • rough carved bone jewelry (mjolnir necklace)
  • hex key

Really useful box

  • leather cord
  • black paracord
  • electronic screwdriver set
  • craft knife
  • wood chisels x 5
  • binder clips x6
  • steel ring sizer
  • essential oil: lemon
  • essential oil: eucalyptus
  • essential oil: cedarwood
  • essential oil: bergamot
  • essential oil: wintergreen
  • essential oil: peppermint
  • essential oil: petitgrain
  • essential oil: lime
  • essential oil: tea tree
  • essential oil: birch
  • essential oil: orange

TV stand

  • laptop
  • laptop stand
  • ps4
  • hard drive
  • television
  • surge protector
  • V's blanket
  • Black blanket
  • floor cushion
  • floor cushion

Chest of Drawers

  • Bin

Drawer 0

  • clothes

Drawer 1

  • Current clothes
  • Bike pump

  • Suncream

  • Moisturiser
  • Dusters
  • Titanium Beard comb
  • steel beard comb
  • cartridge razor suspended in oil
  • Beard oil
Day Box
  • Runes
  • custom notebook
  • pocket notebook
  • Front door keys
  • Wallet
  • Opinel pocket knife
  • Glasses with case
  • mirror
  • boat keys
  • back door + marina keys
  • ditty bag (empty)
  • pencil case with pen, pencil, ruler
  • butane lighter
  • mystery key
  • compass + V's hair
  • beard beards x3
  • thread
  • box
Beard Box
  • Oil
  • Oil
  • Oil
  • Oil
  • Oil
  • Oil
  • Oil
  • Oil

Drawer 2

B's drawer. Wilderness

Drawer 3

  • Ps3
  • mini USB cable (for ps3 controller)
  • micro USB cable (for ps4 controller)

  • Bracers thick

  • bracers thin
  • black tie
  • red washcloth
  • red hand towel
  • jumper/sweater
  • swimming trunks
  • formal trousers
  • Grey hoodie
  • purple hand towel
  • white tee
  • black jogging trousers
  • Ps4 Crash trilogy
  • Ps4 Fallout 4
  • Ps4 Skyrim
  • Ps4 Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Ps4 Borderlands Handsome Collection
  • Ps4 Lego Star Wars Ep 7

  • Ps3 God of War Collection

  • Ps3 Metal Gear HD collection
  • Ps3 MGS4
  • Ps3 MGS5 Ground Zeroes
  • Ps3 MGS5 Phantom Pain
  • Ps3 Assassin' Creed 2
  • Ps3 Assassin' Creed 3
  • Ps3 Assassin' Creed 4

  • Ps2 Soul Reaver 2

  • Ps2 MGS 2
Grooming Kit
  • beard trimmer
  • clippers
  • cleaning brush for clippers
  • clippers mains charger
  • beard trimmer mains charger
  • badger brush
  • dove soap
  • hair scissors
  • cartridge razor base
  • toenail clippers

Bedside Table

  • lamp
  • decorative statues
  • steel water bottle
  • Phone
  • nail clippers
  • tweezers

Drawer 0

  • ocarina
  • backup drive
  • spare earbud ends
  • hard drive + USB keys
  • medicine box
  • studio headphones
  • TV remote
  • ps4 controller
  • ps3 controller
  • kindle
  • USB cables w/ ditty bags
  • documents w/ wallet
  • Gopro w/ pouch
  • Sewing pins
  • backup phone
  • portable battery
  • measuring tape
  • spare usb charger
  • vapour rub
  • spare bike keys
  • black sewing thread
  • NA plug converter
  • EU plug converter
  • EU plug for USB charger
  • passport
  • sewing kit in tin
  • Barclaycard
  • Newcastle library card
  • Anthony Nolan card
  • ehic card
  • HSBC main account card
  • ucu membership card
  • CPB membership card
  • organ donor card

Drawer 1

  • bike lock
  • sex toys
  • lubricant
  • condoms
  • bike rear light

Under Bed

  • Steel bowl
  • USB mains charger
  • USB C cable
  • Micro USB csble


  • Convict Conditioning (CC)
  • CC 2
  • CC 3
  • C-Mass
  • naked warrior
  • complete calisthenics
  • competent crew skills
  • sailing essentials
  • yachtmaster scheme
  • scrapbook

Day Bag

  • Cutlery
  • Lip balm
  • USB cables
  • Audio recorder
  • Spare keyring rings
  • Hi-vis jacket (for cycling)
  • Hi-vis arm band (for cycling)
  • Lunch Box
  • Water bottle
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof trousers


  • Dove soap
  • Black handtowel
  • Toothbrush + case
  • Toothpaste


  • decorative drinking horn
  • whiskey glass
  • pewter stein
  • ramikens x4
  • Chinese bowls x2
  • Chinese soup spoon x2
  • Chinese condiment bowl x2
  • mandolin
  • lunchbox
  • plastic food storage x10
  • bamboo reusable cloths x5
  • slow cooker
  • hand blender
  • food defrosting plate
  • sushi hangiri
  • sushi nigiri press
  • spider
  • bamboo rolling mat
  • silicon rolling mat
  • engraved spatula "sushi"
  • engraved wooden sushi board

Sitting Room

  • Camping chair
  • ab wheel
  • "Henchgripz" horizontal bar
  • resistance bands x4 (assorted strength)
  • wooden board game set
  • hnefatafl board
  • battleships set
  • carved walking stick
  • solstice tree (stored)
  • solstice tree decorations (stored)

stuff minimalism clutter list items

Brief reflections on my relationship with photos

As part of my 'leaving behind Google' process, combined with my minimalism journey, I recently exported and curated an entire archive of photographs I've collected. They're mostly concentrated around 2011 -- 2015, but there are a few even back to 2008 from my days doing stage shows and there's another little concecntration more recently from when I finally upgraded my smartphone.

I learned a few things about what I value from this process. I downloaded all the images, imported them into Shotwell to have it automatically sort them by date where it can, and then traipsed through chronologically to sort the wheat from the chaff. it took around two hours, which was a lot longer than expected. The tl;dr version of this is that "I don't need to keep around 90% of the photos I do take", my thoughts behind this are below.

I take a lot of photographs of landscapes and buildings that I don't actually care about

Whenever I go on an adventure out somewhere like a city, or the cliffs, or an abandoned building, I've almost compulsively took photographs across the day. I say the word compulsively because the impulse to photograph things does not come naturally to me. I was late to the smartphone game and until recently the camera on my phone has been subpar. Since catching up, I've been feeling the need to 'document' my journeys and this has involved taking a lot of photographs of stuff like beautiful landscapes and buildings that I appreciate. Thing is, I don't actually care about these photographs.

Don't get me wrong -- I appreciate a good building or landscape and if you show me photographs you've taken I will absolutely sit and listen and look at the image whole-heartedly. It's just that, once I've sat and appreciated a good view I don't often feel the need to revisit it. I deleted most of my photographs of mountains, sunrises at the beach, and cityscapes. I kept a few, but these were really heavily tied to personal achievements and much more representational of a point in time than anything else.

I care a lot more about people and stories than I do about places and events

Related to above, the photographs I found myself keeping were the ones featuring myself with others. Turns out the people in my life are much more important to me than the fact I've had a day out somewhere, or saw a nice building. Most of my fond memories are tied with visiting friends, or going out on adventures with them. I like spending time alone as well, which is why I deleted a lot of empty landscapes and selfies, but whenever I came across a photograph of myself and a loved one together it was often my favourite photo of that time period.

The same holds true for stories vs events. I don't care so much for a "Visited Niagara Falls" photograph of the falls, I care about a group picture that we took that acts as a prompt for me to tell myself or tell another the story of the creepy food court staffed by probably-ghosts. Sometimes the story is a selfie of me pulling a stupid face atop a mountain. But yeah -- I kept all the photographs of myself and others doing stuff.

I prefer it when others take photographs of me

I'm not a particularly good photographer, although sometimes modern cameras can compensate for that. I've grown accustomed to selfies but I'm still not overly comfortable with them and for that reason I prefer it when others take photographs of me. That way I have documentation of myself from another's perspective. It also makes me feel valued that they'd consider taking a photograph of me.

Also, and this is no small part, it means I get a photograph of a story without having to deal with all the other photographs in another person's collection.

Most of my photos are purely utilitarian

Around 80% of my photographs are taken for a single-use, disposable purpose (is there a comparison with one-use plastics there?). Most of the time that purpose is "Hey look at the thing!". Since I quit Facebook, it's been less about sharing to the masses and more about messaging specific people about a thing I want to show them. Stuff like "My lunch is much better than yours" or "Look at this thing I've just spotted on the street". It's like picture messaging a la snapchat but because I don't actually use snapchat, the image sticks around on my phone and makes its way into my collection when imported.

I can live in the moment a lot more

I mentioned earlier than I take a lot of photographs of beautiful scenery. I've somehow associated appreciating something beautiful with archiving it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but I've just expended energy taking the photo only to never look at it and then expend more energy deleting it later.

What I'm taking from this is that I can take that energy and transfer it into experiencing the moment a lot more. I already do appreciate a good scene-as-it-happens, but if I walk in with the knowledge that I don't need to take a photograph of it, I think I'll be more inclined to appreciate it.

I need a photo mode that allows me to share-and-forget

I need a mode in apps and cameras that allow me to take a photograph to show people a thing, on various platforms/services, and then instantly delete the local copy of the photo so it never makes its way to a collection. If anyone knows an app like this, please let me know.

reflection minimalism data curation photography values

Quick thoughts on Minimalist Design Patterns for Brimstone

Minimalism is one of the inspirations I draw from when hacking at Brimstone. So far this has manifested by removing things like excessive UI elements, cumbersome Javascript and CSS frameworks (thankfully PureCSS exists), and streamlining things such as how Posts work and are displayed.

I had a thought recently when considering the About page, and how a more minimal approach might look. At the moment, the approach is still relatively minimal; the UserProfile object has a field which can store text used to render the About page using markdown. If it's null or empty, the templates don't render a link to the About page and the controller redirects any attempts to directly go to /about to the index page.

How then, do I think it may be improved? Obviously these are rough ideas -- I also don't think there's anything explicitly wrong with the way things are done currently. What might seem simple to me might not be simple to others, and in fact I think there's an argument that these design patterns could add complexity in some regards.

Under both of the following proposals, the UserProfile object has the about attribute removed, and controller logic is changed to accommodate the new pattern.

Idea 1 - Using a Post for an About Page

Under the current design, the About page is simply a text field containing markdown that is rendered when the visitor calls /about. This works basically exactly the same as a Post but is a bit less versatile e.g. Posts store a lastModified attribute which can inform the reader if/when the Post was last edited and give some idea of freshness.

Under this design pattern, Post receives a new boolean attribute which marks it as the About page. A form or button is implemented, along with a controller to handle elevating a Post to this position with the following logic:

post = post // from controller
previousAbout = searchPosts(where: about == true)

if ( previousAbout is not null ):


return new Response(200)

The About page template can actually remain, with the controller simply changing the variable it passes into it to achieve the goal. Another consideration, however, is the header templates logic when choosing to render an /about link. Currently it utilises a UserProfile object already passed in to the template which is used for H-Card generation and Site titles as well as visible elements such as the name and profile image. Since the UserProfile object also contains the About page, it simply checks to see if it's null or not to decide whether to render the /about link. If I made the About page a Post, the controller would need to inform the template separately, unless the UserProfile maintained a 1-to-1 relationship with a single post, which is nullable. This changes the previous controller logic above to:

post = post // from controller
userProfile = user.getProfile()


return new Response(200)

Which I actually prefer. The UserProfile still has an about attribute, but it's a reference to pre-existing content and can be switched without a search of the database and it prevents duplication; where since Post already contains the necessary attributes for a good About page it makes sense to leverage it.

Idea 2 - Using a tag for an About Page

This one also utilises Posts, but with a slight twist. Instead of elevating a single Post to become an About page, what if we simply used a Tag? That way, the user could add content to their about page on-the-fly simply by tagging a Post with an about tag?

I don't think this is without issues -- for example how do you order things? What about reordering things on the page? How about editing posts, you have to hunt them down (admittedly just a search for the tag about…)? There's also the issue of the header rendering the /about link from earlier -- this means every controller needs to do a search for Posts tagged with about and check the length of that result, to decide.

I'm sure there's a way around this, and I really like the idea of a cumulative About page which can be made up of otherwise disparate content, for now I'm going to try out Idea 1 and see how that goes.

development brimstone minimalism php minimalist design design patterns web design

Gratitude List Autumn 2018

Every three months or so I do a gratitude list in order to try and cultivate gratitude, stem my desire for novelty, and seek tranquility by training myself to want what I already have. I usually write these in a notebook, but I am of the web and thought it would be cute to publish it as a blog post that I update every day.

  • A is for Autumn. Crisp outside, the right levels of light, and a favourite season of mine
  • B is for Bees. I hope we can save them, as they give us honey and mead.
  • C is for Chickpeas. Delicious, nutritious, and straight from the Earth
  • D is for Dogs. They are all good boys, and I'm glad we evolved together.
  • E is for Eggs. For me, they're pretty much the perfect food
  • F is for Fruit. Ensuring I get nutrients along with my sweet fix
  • G is for Games, as ways of bringing play into my life
  • H is for Houseplants. Givers of oxygen, calmers of my mind.
  • I is for International Worker Cooperation. The solution to global capitalism.
  • J is for Jars. Allowing me to reuse them and store things in style.
  • K is for Kin. Through experience, I am glad of my friends and kin for making possible all I have achieved.
  • L is for LineageOS. You help me run a phone free from Google.
  • M is for Mentors. Teaching and guiding me.
  • N is for Novels. One of my favourite mediums for stories.
  • O is for Oranges and their variants. Always delicious and about as sweet as I'll go.
  • P is for (my) Pull-up bar. Temple and teacher, it forges me anew constantly.
  • Q is for Quiet, and for the ability to find moments of it everyday.
  • R is for (the) Red Flag. The People's Flag. The Workers' Flag. Uniting us in struggle.
  • S is for Stories. The building block of society, I adore stories of all kind.
  • T is for Tea. Like a blankie for your insides, it solves all problems.
  • U is for Unity. Together we may move mountains.
  • V is for Vegetables. Like, they're literally free food from the ground.
  • W is for Water Bottles. Specifically the steel ones; helping me stay hydrated without waste.
  • X is a tough one. Not much I know begins with X. I guess I'm thankful for X-Rays in Medicine. I'm thankful that I'm well but if I ever get sick, I'm sure they'll help.
  • Y is for (my) yacht. A gorgeous little thing that I hope to give proper attention to soon.
  • Z is for Zotero. You're open source, flexible with me, and do your job well.

life reflection minimalism Stoicism gratitude lists

Thinking about 'Stuff'

I've been thinking about stuff and my relationship with it. It mostly kicked off when I read Rhiaro's post about nomadism, but if I reflect a bit then I think it's been brewing for a while.

Unlike Rhiaro, I am not a nomad. I like visiting new places, and I love the romanticised concept of 'travelling' but there's always been a financial and a class barrier to me engaging on that type of physical journey (for the most part). She would disagree, but I tend to think that overly-romanticised travel is pretty classist. My experiences have always, therefore, lent themselves to building up a 'home base'. A sanctuary (sounds pretentious but emotionally I think that's probably most accurate) into which I can retreat during anabolic periods of my life.

This obviously lends itself to having more stuff. I moved to my flat Sep 2011 and brought with me three books, a new desk lamp, my clothes (which all fit into a single chest of drawers), my desktop computer, my laptop, a desk and chair. A year later, my desktop was deceased and I had a new laptop. I also brought in my bookcase with all its books. As my experiences grew I needed to acquire more and more things to deal with them; formal date? New shirt (cheap). Winter? Coat. The room in my flat certainly isn't the smallest room I've ever had but it's gotten to feel a bit more cramped as time has progressed.

My point is that, although I totally love the idea of minimalism and I extoll any philosophy which encourages us to stop buying stuff we don't need or truly want; stuff like challenging yourself to own less than 100 things is going to lend itself to spending more in-the-moment as you prepare for less eventualities. Unless your minimalism is incredibly functional, it's a middle-class minimalism for those who can afford in very literal terms to be flexible with their situation. Maybe I'm just misunderstanding minimalism, but it seems to me that if plan a day out and don't bring a pack with a water bottle and some food then you're saying you can afford to spend that in-the-moment without much thought to your financial situation. Maybe it's not a lot of money for you to drop £10 on lunch that day, but that £10 for some people could be put to better use. I am definitely guilty of this.

Aside from deriding the middle-class form of minimalism, I do appreciate the aesthetic of less clutter. I do, however, have to juxtapose this for my love of personal effects and boxes of ephemera both aesthetically and emotionally. I love when you walk into someone's house and they have stuff that they've clearly had and cared for; for years! I love that just by being owned by a person, a mass-produced item can take on a personality and characteristics from its mundane place in the lives of people. People have experiences and histories, which can usually be captured by the items they associate with them. Treasure chests of memories are a trope for a reason.

On that note, my colleague and comrade @tripsandflips and I had a discussion about this the other day and she made an interesting point which got me thinking about that. Books aren't books if they're not being read. The more I think about it, the more I agree with this sentiment. As much as I love stuff's history, I think I have trouble letting go. Some of the books on my bookshelf haven't been touched in years. Some of them are very special to me, but as I think about them I begin to realise that it's the story that they contain that is special. I might release them from their shelfy prison to let them be books again. I've come up with a solution to help them on their journey as well -- instead of using the first page to claim ownershop of a book ie "This book belongs to XYZ", I'm going to try and start off logging the tome's personal history. I'll write "This book has been enjoyed by Matt Marshall" and encourage others to leave their mark. I think that'll be a good practice to try and start.

My final point of tension is that I've begun my journey into crafting and trying to produce things for myself an others. This in itself lends to having multiple tools and stores of materials around. I used to get around my desire to craft by telling myself "Programming is your craft. Go build cool digital stuff!". I can no longer do that, though. I need to smell the beard oil and feel the bone dust caught in my pores.

I'm not sure where this ramble through my thoughts on stuff has lead. If I was truly honest with myself, I'd say it's probably a precursor to my taking a census of everything I own that isn't stored food. So... expect lists I suppose?

diary stuff reflection minimalism classism

Another List of Stuff I Own (December 2018)

Back in May I posted a list of stuff that I own in reflection of what I found the most useful. I've just changed my living situation, shed a lot of clutter, and am also in a major period of reflection. I've since acquired a few new things as well here and there. As such I thought I'd do another list.

This one will be slightly different. In the previous list I didn't take into account clothes, and grouped some items together which compacted the numbers slightly. This time I've expanded them out, just to see what duplicates I have and take an absolute total overview of all of my things. In contrast where I've conceptually or physically reduced things into the same space I've collapsed these in this list too. A good example of that would be my list of video games; I've gotten rid of all of the boxes and collapsed the discs into a single disc holder; so they're physically and conceptually reduced to a single item of my collection of video games. Last time I also took an overview of where the items were stored in attempt to see what clusters of things I could reduce. This time I am presenting them in a table along with a high-level frequency of use and some high-level descriptors of how I use them.

This list doesn't acknowledge items in the kitchen that I technically own since, now that I've changed my living situation, I am sharing them with my flatmate R. These will likely come with me if/when I move out, and technically could count as my possessions; I've ommitted them because they've taken on a much more communal character since the last list.

## The Stuff Last time I counted 282 items, without clothes but including some kitchen equipment, and some items collapsed. This time with the clothes expanded but a few items collapsed here and there and including things like hard cases used to store other items, we're at 218 items. This is quite a marked improvement considering I counted each pair of socks and underwear individually!

Item Used For Frequency
Laptop Work, thesis, recreation, research Daily
Laptop Sleeve Protecting laptop Daily
Bluetooth keyboard Ergonomics at work Daily
Bluetooth Mouse Ergonomics at work Daily
Display Connector Conferences, Monitors, Watching Movies Monthly
Phone (OnePlus 5) Work, podcasts, communications, recreation, navigation, banking Daily
Bluetooth Headphone (Sony WH-H900n) Work,Podcasts, Watching movies Daily
Case for Bluetooth Headphones Protecting Headphones Daily
Lamp Reading at night Weekly
Goat Skull Sentiment, Decoration N/A
Gemstone Cat Sentiment, Decoration N/A
Gemstone Bottle Sentiment, Decoration N/A
Steel Water Bottle Drinking at home, drinking at work, drinking during travel Daily
Steel Tea Cup Drinking tea at home Daily
Beard comb (travel) Grooming Daily
Tweezers Grooming Weekly
Earplugs (repurposed) Sleeping Daily
Eyemask Sleeping Daily
Glass jar Storing beard comb, earplugs, twitter, tweezers Daily
Diary Writing, notes, planning Daily
Fountain pen Writing, notes, planning Daily
Bottled Ink Writing Monthly
E-Reader Reading Daily
Bluetooth Earphones Training, travel, back-up Weekly
Earphones Case Protecting Earphones Weekly
Bone and wooden necklace Sentiment, Decoration Daily
Glasses Seeing, work Daily
Glasses case Protecting glasses Daily
Plastic Bag Protecting Phone (waterproofing) Weekly
Runes Mediation, Reflection Weekly
Lip Balm Healthcare Monthly
Card Reader Banking Monthly
Wallet Daily carry Daily
Card – daily banking Banking, daily carry Daily
Card – Co-op membership Community, daily carry Weekly
Card – Bills account Banking, daily carry Monthly
Card – driver’s license ID Monthly
Card – National Insurance N/A Occasional
Key lanyard Daily carry Daily
Key – Bike Daily carry Daily
Key – House Daily carry Daily
Victorinox penknife Daily carry, grooming, opening packages Weekly
Key lanyard Holds boat keys Monthly
Key – Marina For marina Monthly
Key – Boat For boat Monthly
Key – Bike (backup) Back-up N/A
Key – Unknown N/A N/A
Key – Unknown N/A N/A
USB Charger Charging everything Daily
USB-C Cable Charging phone Daily
USB-Micro Cable Charging kindle, phone, headphones, lights Daily
Letter Sentiment N/A
Letter Sentiment N/A
Scrapbook Sentiment N/A
Book – Yachmaster Logbook Sailing training Occasional
Book – Competent Crew Skillbook Sailing training Occasional
Book – Sailing Essentials Sailing training Occasional
Traditional Board Game Set Recreation, Social bonding Occasional
Important Documents Record Keeping N/A
Electronic Extension Chord N/A N/A
Medical Box Healthcare Occasional
USB Hard Drive Back-up Weekly
Plant Food Feeding plants Occasional
Laptop Charger Charging laptop Daily
Steel Cutlery Set Eating at work, travel, zero waste Daily
Steel Lunch Box Eating at work, travel, zero waste Daily
USB Power Bank Travel, daily carry Occasional
Pouch Storing USB Power Bank Daily
Mechanical Pencil Drawing, notetaking, sketching Weekly
Plastic Ruler 12cm Drawing, sketching Weekly
Plastic Pencil case Storing Mechanical Pencil and Plastic Ruler Daily
USB Hard Drive Back-up Weekly
USB Pen – 2GB Media transfer Occasional
USB Pen – 8GB Installing Ubuntu Occasional
USB Pen – 2GB Media transfer Occasional
USB Pen – 128GB Back-up, Media Storage Occasional
USB Pen – 32GB Back-up, Media Storage Occasional
SD Card – 16GB N/A N/A
SD Card Adapter (Micro to full) N/A N/A
Hardcase – USB Drive Protects USB Drive Daily
Carabiner Daily carry, utility Occasional
Card – Travel Money Travel Occasional
Card – Organ Donor N/A N/A
Card – Madrid Metro Pass Travel Yearly
Card – EHIC Travel, healthcare N/A
Card – Library Membership Community Occasional
USB Charger Back-up, travel Occasional
Adapter – US Travel Occasional
Adapter – EU Travel Occasional
Sewing Kit Repair, zero waste Monthly
Passport Travel Occasional
Penknife – Opinel Crafting, Utility Occasional
Steel Pins Grooming, Repair Occasional
Sewing thread Repair, zero waste Monthly
USB-C Cable Phone, Back-up Occasional
USB-C Cable Phone, Back-up Occasional
USB-C Cable Phone, Back-up Occasional
USB-Micro Cable Charging, Back-up Occasional
USB-Micro Cable Charging, Back-up Occasional
Camera – GoPro Travel, Vlog Occasional
USB-MicroSD Converter Data transfer Occasional
Pouch Storing GoPro + USB converter Daily
Really Useful Box Storing Spare cards, travel gear, gopro, organisational Daily
Studio Headphones (Audio Technica) N/A N/A
Hardcase – Studio Headphones Storing Studio Headphones N/A
Phone (Moto G) Back-up phone Occasional
Towel – Tenugui Washing, cleaning Weekly
Towel – Red Washing Daily
Shoes – Daily Driver Daily Driver Daily
Shoes – Training Training shoes Weekly
Trousers – Cargo Clothing, everyday Weekly
Trousers – Jeans Clothing, everyday Weekly
Hoodie – Black Daily Driver Daily
Hoodie – Grey Training Hoodie Weekly
Bandanna Clothing, everyday Daily
Cloth Cleaning Weekly
Washcloth – Black Washing Weekly
Washcloth – Black Washing Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Thermal Clothing, everyday, travel Weekly
Socks – Thermal Clothing, everyday, travel Weekly
Cloth Cleaning Weekly
Vest – Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Sports Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Tee – White Clothing, everyday Weekly
Tee – White Clothing, everyday Weekly
Tee – Light Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Tee – Light Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Tee – Black Clothing, everyday Weekly
Tee – Black Clothing, everyday Weekly
Henley Tee – White Clothing, everyday N/A
Henley Tee – Black Clothing, everyday Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Vest – Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Handkerchief Hygiene Weekly
Towel – Blue Hygiene, washing Weekly
Shorts – Grey Clothing, Sleeping Daily
Shorts – Black Clothing, Sleeping Daily
Tee – Blue Clothing, Sleeping Daily
Socks – Black/Grey Clothing, everyday Weekly
Underwear Clothing, everyday Weekly
Shirt – Flannel Clothing, everyday Weekly
Shirt – Loose Clothing, everyday Weekly
Towel – Purple Training Weekly
Waterproof Trousers Daily carry, training, commuting Daily
Tee – White (poor quality) training Weekly
Trousers – Jogging – Black Training Weekly
Tee – Thermal Training Weekly
Shorts – Swimming Travel, social, recreation Occasional
Toiletry Bag Travel Occasional
Party Flag Activism Occasional
Training Band – Orange Training Occasional
Training Band – Green Training Occasional
Training Band – Purple Training Occasional
Dremel Kit Crafting, Utility Occasional
Extension Chord Work, Utility Occasional
Waterproof Poncho Travel, daily carry, back-up Occasional
Steel Water Bottle Back-up, travel Occasional
Electronics ScrewDrivers Set Utility Occasional
Mess Tins Travel, camping Occasional
USB-Mini Cable Charging PS3 Controller Occasional
Bamboo Cloth Cleaning Weekly
Bamboo Cloth Cleaning Weekly
Re-usable Bag Shopping, zero waste Occasional
Re-usable Bag Shopping, zero waste Occasional
Re-usable Bag Shopping, zero waste Occasional
Re-usable Bag Shopping, zero waste Occasional
Re-usable Bag Shopping, zero waste Occasional
Re-usable Bag Shopping, zero waste Occasional
Re-usable Bag Shopping, zero waste Occasional
Re-usable Bag Shopping, zero waste Occasional
Travel Bag – Clothes Travel, Storing clothes Occasional
Tie – Black Formal Events Occasional
Bedsheets – Blue Utility Daily
Bedsheets – Black/Grey Utility Daily
Blanket – Black Relaxing Weekly
Blanket – Leopard Sentiment, Relaxing Weekly
Backpack – Canvas Daily carry Daily
Backpack – Nylon Training bag Weekly
Playstation 4 Entertainment Weekly
Playstation 3 Entertainment Occasional
Beard Trimmer Grooming Weekly
Clippers Grooming Weekly
Hair Scissors Grooming Weekly
Nail Clippers – Hands Grooming Weekly
Nail Clippers – Toes Grooming Weekly
Safety Razor Grooming Weekly
Razor Blades Grooming Weekly
Bike Transport, commute, recreation, exercise Daily
Vest – Hi-Viz Transport, Safety Daily
Bike Lights Transport, Safety Daily
Bike Lock Transport, Safety Daily
Dressing Gown Clothing, relaxatiom Daily
Fleece Clothing, warmth, daily Daily
Shemagh – Palestine Clothing, everyday, solidarity Daily
Waterproof Jacket Daily carry, training, commuting Daily
Washcloth – Red Washing Daily
Games Collection Entertainment Weekly

## Summary I'll be reflecting on this properly over the coming weeks when I have some down time. Initially, my thoughts are that there were a lot more items marked as "Occasional" than I would have liked. I've also noted some surplus in some areas, such as the re-usable bags. Having a few is good, but I think I've got a bit many to just consider as "back-up". I think I can bin several of my USB pens as well, especially the ones used for "media transfer" which basically just means "watching movies on the PS4".

There are a few things I want to repurpose for general use as well; my grey hoodie is nice as a bit of training uniform to get me in the mindset but rotating it into use as a daily driver when my black hoodie is being washed would be useful as well. I've thought about this with my towels as well, having a rotation of three where one is in use, one is being used for training after it's been used for washing, and one is in the wash ready for the next cycle.

For now I'll be keeping track of my stuff in a spreadsheet, and I'm sure I'll find some way of accurately tracking how often I use it or where it fits into my life.

stuff minimalism clutter list items

Just discovered The Plaintext Project. If you're stuck on a project and productivity suites aren't helping you I'd heartily recommend reverting to plaintext; stripping away the pretense of whatever shiny app you're using and focusing on content does wonders.

I use plaintext for most things digital. It embodies simplicity and focus, and it's permissive. You know the boundaries of the form and as such you aren't constantly worried about spacing, title formatting etc. There's no buttons or menus to distract you.

I also use a pen and paper notebook to get the initial shape of things down, and to get creative. Generally my workflow will be akin to: Pen and Paper (Create) -> Plaintext (Produce and edit) -> Shiny thing (formatting). Shiny thing can be a Word Processor doc or some CSS, but I don't need to worry about it until right at the end.

minimalism plaintext

State of my phone 2020-06

My phone intersects on various aspects of my life such as minimalism, de-googling, FLOSS, etc. As a result of that I'm often posting lists of apps on various subreddits to share my practices and I thought it'd be neat to collect it all here.

I have a barebones android phone without any of the Google framework in; meaning I don't have the playstore etc. My apps tend to be from F-Droid so non-commercial, open, and quite pragmatic.

My minimalism here is embodied through only really carrying around what I need on the phone, as there's not really the chance to get distracting apps and choosing apps with very minimal or functional designs.

A lot of my apps are default system apps which are generally omitted from this list. My main tension point is around the audio apps as I have three -- one for each podcasts, music, and audiobooks. I've not found a good single app that does all three well at all and each of the ones I've chosen are exquisitely designed. So I guess they're minimal in the sense they're really good at one thing.

Apps that I use:

  • Audio -- AntennaPod for Podcasts, Voice for audiobooks, and Odyssey for music. I tried to use the default Music app for android but it's become abandonware and wasn't playing tracks in any reasonable or predictable order. Odyssey is blazing fast, looks pretty, and follows material design well.
  • Cloud sync -- Nextcloud as my dropbox alternative and DAVx^5 to sync my calendar and contacts to my Nextcloud server without Google's involvement. DAVx^5 kinda gets out of the way and I don't need to open it ever, but included it here for completeness
  • Email -- default android email client
  • Web browser -- GNU Ice cat mobile
  • File browsing -- I've recently switched to Material Files after Amaze had become abandonware. I tried to use the default system file browser, honestly I tried. But it wasn't showing folders properly, wouldn't copy/paste well at all. I hated it but tbh I hate Google even more for making it abandonware.
  • Security -- I'm a tecchie so carry around encryption keys in OpenKeychain and passwords in Password Store
  • Messaging -- Signal
  • Notes -- Markor
  • Wellbeing -- Loop Habits Tracker to track habits like exercise, diet, etc. and Red Moon to make my phone less harsh on my eyes
  • Maps -- OSMand+
  • Misc -- I use Newpipe for YouTube videos although the context of my phone this is usually to use its audio download feature to nab a music track. I also, weirdly, have Loyalty card keychain installed. I only have a Co-op membership card myself (co-ops ftw), but carry around my friends' cards on this to nab them the points for things.

And that's it really. Other than the clock / calculator which I use sometimes and my sadly proprietary banking app. No social apps. I also installed a minimalist greyscale icon set and have a greyscale wallpaper. Occasionally Telegram makes an appearance on my phone for specific times when I need to contact someone who uses it, but mostly I use Telegram on my laptop.

minimalism FLOSS open source free software phone de-google

Writing a thesis in markdown

In my dark and murky past as a full time PhD Student and in my current alter-ego as someone writing up a PhD Thesis on the evenings and weekends I have spent a lot of time writing things. A lot of academic writing occurs in either Word or LaTeX and since my undergraduate I've been firmly in the LaTeX camp; using it to write papers, essays, etc. When I started my PhD I was originally planning to produce my thesis in LaTeX and actually wrote the first drafts of my initial few chapters in it.

I ended up migrating away from LaTeX and these days I, like many others online, try to do most things in Plaintext or Markdown. I don't want to spend too much of this post saying why as there are entire blogs dedicated to this. Suffice to say that it dovetails very nicely with my views on minimalism and simplicity and allows me to focus on the writing. Just as LaTeX got out of my way when trying to write before, so markdown gets out of my way even more than LaTeX does. In this instance it has made an otherwise troubled PhD experience much more pleasant than if I were to attempt to finish my thesis by other means.

My toolkit

If you're a general fan of either plaintext or markdown then chances are you're familiar with the majority of these tools.

The core toolset:

  • Atom for my text editor (although any text editor would do)
  • Markdown for markup, using the Pandoc markdown flavour
  • BibTeX for my references / bibliography storage
  • Pandoc for converting to various output formats
  • Zotero and its associated Firefox plugin to manage my bibliography and export BibTeX


These may seem quite numerous and complex but thankfully I've been working with each of these tools independantly for years and it was very straightforward to put them together. It may be strange to hear a stack of 8 tools being described as "simple" or "minimalist" but the benefit of these is that they're each very good at one specific job and ultimately they get out of my way when it's time to write which is something that Word Processors just don't do. Whether it's MS Word or even LibreOffice Write; I just can't seem to master the art of sitting in front of a word processor and writing. I'm constantly fighting with formatting, pasting, and images jumping around. Not to mention the crashing.

Both PureCSS and BetterBibTeX literally disappear once you've added them to the toolchain. There's an initial 2 minute setup where you install BetterBibTeX into Zotero and, maybe, adjust the citation key format to your preferences. After that it just kind of fades away as you benefit from nicer citation key exports.

Zotero and its connector would be part of any academic toolchain as an alternative to proprietary systems so I'm not sure they count as additional burden to be honest. That said once the Zotero Firefox connector is installed it becomes second nature to hit the button and grab the citation for writing.

Git is effectively just my cloud storage and back-up solution. If you're using a Word Processor to manage this you probably have back-ups on USB keys (good) and a cloud solution (also good) such as (probably) Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive. This supports syncing. Since my thesis is so tiny, effectively being in plaintext, this is handled by Git without any complaint and it also makes sense to allow me to track changes to individual files. The thesis is stored online in a Gitlab repo.

Pandoc facilitates the conversion between the markdown source and formats that people want to read it in. For fun and convenience I wrote a small build script that allows me to build the the thesis quickly since pandoc commands can become quite long. I run this once at the end of every writing session.

In Practice

This is all well and good but what does it look like in practice?

Here's my folder structure:

* thesis/
  * notes/
  * out/
  * src/
    * figs/
      * fig-files.svg
    * harvard-newcastle-university.csl
    * thesis.bib
    * web.css
  * templates

The notes folder is just that. If I'm working something through or wanted to take extensive notes on something to have by the thesis but that wouldn't make sense or would clutter it when it came read a draft of a section they go here.

The out folder isn't actually included in the git repo as it is where the "builds" of the thesis end up. When you run the build script it automatically generates the thesis in this location.

The src folder is the actual content of the thesis. It only has one subfolder called figs for, you guessed it, figures. Each chapter has its own file which is pretty straightforward. contains some front-matter for configuring the builds and adding metadata. This effectively just makes it easier to manage the pandoc commands. It looks like this:

title: A Rough, Transparent, Draft of my PhD Thesis
author: Matt Marshall
bibliography: src/thesis.bib

 - src/web.css

link-citations: true
csl: src/harvard-newcastle-university.csl

thesis.bib and web.css should be pretty self-explanatory as files: the former is my BibTeX library generated from Zotero and the latter is some custom css that I apply on top of PureCss to make the HTML version look prettier.

The templates folder contains a template for a HTML frontpage used by the build script. In the future it may contain custom pandoc templates for LaTeX or such to generate a thesis with some obligatory frontmatter such as a Newcastle University logo (blerugh).

That's all there is to it really. 99% of the time I just live in a markdown file for each chapter, and then run a build script to build the thesis in my desired output format.

Referencing workflow

When I need to reference something I need to interact with Zotero but it's so simple it's almost embarassing.

  1. In my web browser I hit the Zotero connector button to trigger saving the reference to my Zotero library
  2. In Zotero the reference is already highlighted so I'll check it has all the information it needs
  3. BetterBibTeX has already done its thing so I copy the citation key over into my document using the pandoc citation syntax e.g. [@strohmayerTechnologiesSocialJustice2017]
  4. Atom's autosuggest magically starts suggesting it to me whenever I start typing @ in case I need to type it again.

When I'm done writing for a bit or want to check how a paragraph reads I'll export the Zotero collection used for my thesis into thesis.bib.

Working with others

When you're writing a thesis it's generally recommended that you send your work to your supervisor and hopefully they'll get back to you with comments and opinions on it.

Unfortunately my supervisor isn't really a markdown person so I was worried initially that there would be a tool/workflow gap. Thankfully from my writing-papers-in-LaTeX days there was the well established practice of using Pandoc to convert the document into a word file and sending it over to receive feedback which is what we've landed on.

Originally I was going to try to get dokieli set up on the web version of my thesis to facilitate feedback there however I didn't want to create any additional hoops to jump through. I landed on the workflow of sending my supervisor my chapter in a DOCX file and then receiving that file back with comments which I keep open while I work on the changes in markdown.

I don't store the feedback in the git repository as this would get bulky quite quickly and I feel that's a separate concern. I manage feedback by sticking the feedback into a folder that's synced to my NextCloud instance.


There is one very distinct area that I've found a challenge when choosing to write my thesis in markdown which is automatic numbering for sections, tables, and figures. Sadly Pandoc doesn't support this to my knowledge. There is a fork of Pandoc called Scholdoc which is puported to understand Scholarly markdown; a markdown flavour that is purpose-built for academic writing. Its syntax includes provisions for figures and float environments which is pretty neat and the output formats are limited to HTML 5 and DOCX which are fine by me. Theoretically it is exactly what I needed.

Sadly I never got Scholdoc to work and it looks like the last update to the Github repo was way back in 2015 so I suspect it may be abandonware. My solution thusfar in my thesis has been to manually number figures by chapter e.g. Chapter 3 Figure 1 is Fig 3.1 but it would've been nice to be able to have this done automatically and update as I add/remove/adjust figures.

If I'm honest it doesn't bother me too much and forces me to keep it simple and not rely too much on figures in a chapter. If it becomes a problem in later chapters when it comes to crunch time I may introduce an intermediary step where the thesis is converted to LaTeX and tweaked before being transformed into its final PDF form although that would sadly clash with my original plan of using print styles on HTML to manage this.


I've put together a very simple toolkit and structure to write my PhD thesis in markdown. This enables quite a nice and relatively natural rhythm for writing as well as allowing me to present the thesis in various forms for the web and collaboration with my supervisor. There are still challenges and I lose some benefit from not getting automatic numbering which I do with LaTeX, but overall has resulted in a very nice writing experience. I'd recommend this to anyone.

In fact I wrote the first draft of this blog post before I searched the web for writing a thesis in markdown and it turns out this is already an established practice. I'm glad to say that, at a brief glance over the landscape, many of the same things I've said are shared experiences. I'll stick to my own toolchain here but I recommend people look at Tom Pollard's PhD Markdown Thesis template and I found this post from The Urbanist a pleasant read as well.

Happy writing.

minimalism phd markdown technology thesis plaintext

Thoughts on Minimalism, Zero Waste, and Class

Over the last few weeks I've been going through something of change as I become determined to declutter everything and regain some of the peace of mind that I've lost as I've accumulated half a decade's worth of stuff in my flat. This entry is very much just getting a few thoughts rattling around my head and onto 'paper' so that I can sleep at night in peace.

I've always had a cognitive dissonance regarding Minimalism. At first glance, I find the execution of the lifestyle incredibly classist -- a lot of modern minimalism focuses on condensing your old items into digital equivalents. The prime example is the bookshelf becoming the eReader (usually the Kindle because branding grumble grumble). Now, I know that thanks to the 'miracle' of modern Capitalism that personal electronics are cheaper than ever (ie don't insult refugees for having smartphones) but the digital divide is totally a thing and has class implications. Amazon (that paragon of virtue) do sell their eReader at a relatively low cost but £56 (as of writing) is still a lot of money, especially if you're struggling to get by. On minimum wage in the UK that would take basically an entire full working shift to earn. And that's presuming you're working that long and consistently, what with zero hour contracts destroying the ability of the working class to do much of anything except beg for hours from their employer. The middle-class person could easily adopt minimalism; just grab their eReader and destroy the book shelf. That initial investment still remains a potential barrier to access to many Proles, however.

Side note: Sorry for the multiple Guardian links, I'm not the biggest fan of The Guardian (white middle class liberalism for the most part) but their journalism isn't too bad and they're often within the first few links of a DuckDuckGo search on a given topic since they're broadsheet and cover a lot of issues

What I do like about minimalism (aside from some aesthetics) is that is does begin to remove one from consumerism to a degree. The main danger, of course, is falling into a trap of going on a spending spree in order to transition to the lifestyle (see above Kindle). If executed with reflection and care, however, I understand the lifestyle to discourage unnecessary spending as a habit and encourage reflection. Which could often lead to personal realisations about the effects consumerism on one's life as a rudimentary form of class conciousness. Maybe? I also enjoy how minimalism encourages creativity in thinking about space and its ability to be reconfigured given the right equipment (again, given the right equipment... barrier to access right there). I've been lucky in that I live in a ground floor flat with one other person for the last few years, and we haven't generally fight for control of communal space. Lately, however, our social dynamic has been changing somewhat and I find myself being more and more reluctant to leave my room -- the ability to reconfigure the space would be of extreme benefit in allowing me to dissociate its various functions and get into various 'modes' (e.g. sleep, work, relax etc).

Zero Waste kinda appealed to me a while ago since I've always been fairly against waste in theory but have felt paralysed to execute it properly. As Commie, I also think that Zero Waste as it's been presented to me is overly liberal, and borders on the neoliberal. Lauren from Trash is for Tossers even says in her Tedx talk that "[She] lives this lifestyle for [her]". Obviously, it's better for the planet -- and she says in her talk that consumers are not being given a choice in some cases (e.g. cleaning products) but in other cases she simply switched to farmers' markets, weigh houses etc. for her food. What if you're living in city suburbs where they're not available? We have a single market that closes at the end of the day (y'know, when most people are still at work). Proles often can't afford to bulk buy, and often they can't afford to shop in places other than the supermarket for their food. What about the packaging used for bulk food? The onus should be on institutions for waste production, and they should be removing barriers to engaging with minimal waste. The 5p bag tax has done wonders in the UK, but surely it should be the supermarkets paying for it? They should be giving out paper bags, or canvas bags at a reduced cost, shouldn't they? Instead it's the consumer that bears the cost of when the forgot to grab their bag. My proposed model: tax the supermarkets on their consumption of plastic, and force them to offer discounts to people who bring in bags, which they've been able to acquire cheaply.

That all being said, I've always been a fan of thinking differently about waste, and repurposing things. I celebrate the Zero Waste movement for fighting back and demonstrating alternatives, as much as I deride them for being overly liberal in appearing to place the blame squarely on the individual.

The reflection-y bit.

If I think about these two things, I'm definitely gearing more and more towards them as shifts in my day-to-day operation. I'll never be entirely minimalist - but I want my space and possesions to have a purpose. I'll never be entirely zero waste until the revolution comes and waste is minimised by the state processes of my glorious Communist Utopia. I rarely drink hot drinks on-the-go. I already drink water from a steel bottle instead of buying it, and I do my shopping with a backpack and a tote bag. Occasionally I need a plastic one, but that's growing much less frequent. Might be my goal to reduce it to zero entirely?

I want my space to be configurable, and my possessions to have an explicit purpose. I will need back-ups, so as to be Anti-fragile, but less stuff means more flexible with situation; means less tying me to a physical location; means more mobile.

I want to contribute to the trend of ecological awareness and reducing environmental impact by reducing household waste. I might keep a waste diary, actually. Anyway, expect a little bit more from me on this relatively soon as I simplify and repurpose my living habits :-)

minimalism classism class zerowaste liberalism

Journalling 007 -- Levelling up, a roadmap for myself

Today I'm going off-piste and giving myself my own journalling prompt. Last year I read the book Level up Your Life by NerdFitness founder Steve Kamb. The book, whilst very nicely written, is essentially just a swiss army knife style summary of some of the things I've also been reading over the last few years. Namely, it contained a very condensed version of the Campbell's Hero's Journey, some advice on goal setting, a bit of minimalist philosophy, and a (relatively) low barrier to access exercise regime in order to allow people to "live a life of adventure". I should note that whilst I enjoyed the book, it read very much like the "if I did it so can you" that is common amongst white middle-class cisstraight males. THere was a good section covering different socio-economic circumstances, and Kamb did a good job of pointing out others who could act as mentors for those with different backgrounds, but I feel that this is worth noting.

All in all, I enjoyed the book as it served as a very good summary of a lot of other things I'd been reading such as Happiness By Design, some minimalist stuff, and even The Spirit Level. Also worth a note is Homo Deus as it also covers some of the same themes in part.

The common themes in the books was that purpose is an essential part of how we derive joy in our life. Both from our actions (we could speak of Marx's theory of Alienation as well here…) as well as the objects around us. I've since embarked on a de-cluttering mission designed to evaluate each of the objects that I have about my personal space and get rid of the things I don't need. On the other hand, this has also involved an evaluation of personal habits that I want to affect change in. Unfortunately, the change I want to engage in occasionally requires that I purchase or otherwise bring new items (shudder) into my life. The fact I want to save money towards a mortgage doesn't help with this cognitive dissonance.

To get around this, I've began utilising Kamb's concept of "Levelling up" with my purchases. A purchase that I make should enable me to do something. This can be making an existing process more efficient, in attempt to reach a grander goal, or can allow me to do something new within the context of an existing hobby (e.g. a new pull-up assistance band). This post, therefore, is a way of cataloguing all of the things I have floating around in my head and how I think that they will level me up in various aspects of my life.

Bike Gear

I recently got a bicycle from the charity that I work with, for my consistent volunteering on Mondays. The reason I wanted a bike in the first place was to make me more mobile, without having to invest in learning how to drive or actually get a car. As I exist primarily in urban areas, it's relatively easy to peddle around a my bike affords me cardiovascular exercise, recreational activity, and increased mobility between places (and therefore a net saving on time spent travelling).

At first, my bike sat unused for a month or so, then I began to take it on recreational trips. I couldn't use it for commuting, since it didn't have a lock. After a few recreational trips, I purchased a lock and some lights in order to be able to use it for quick jaunts to and from the city centre, and to local supermarkets (obviously role-played in my head as scouting and supply missions). What follows is a brief summary of my envisioned level ups for my bike:

  1. Helmet, will make me feel more confident using the city's roads as means of travelling more effectively throughout the city
  2. Hi-Viz Vest I am changing my clothes habits to be more layer based. A Hi-Viz jacket will combine with the helmet and the lights to make me more confident on the city's roads, as well as enable safer night cycling. Such mobility!
  3. Bike multitool Will allow me to perform basic maintenance on the bike, as by this point I will have invested enough points into it that it'll begin to get used quite frequently and thus see some wear and tear.
  4. Spare inner tubes and hand pump Punctures happen. Spare inner tubes, combined with the multitool, will allow me to adapt to dangers on the road. Puncture repair kits are a bit naff. This adaptability also increases me roaming and exploration capacity for when I'm out just riding, as opposed to commuting or travelling.
  5. Panniers These will allow the bike to become a much more effective transport steed, allowing me to perform much better-planned shopping trips.
  6. Phone case By this point, discounting any unforeseen requirements, I will have made myself quite secure and adaptable on the bike and it's time to take some longer journeys. A phone case that straps to my handle bars will allow me to plot longer journeys to commute between the city centre and some of the outskirts, as well as the outlying towns and places of interest.

The next question I need to answer is how do I determine when I've earned the level-up? I obviously don't want to fall into the trap of just buying a whole bunch of bike gear and then never using it. I've obviously started to use it, but I think that every month I should have clocked up so many trips on the bike based on what I want to use it for: recreation and commuting. There's no magic number during the month, but consistency should be the key element.

Cooking and diet

One of my current goals is to consistently ensure that I am not just defaulting to purchasing lunch at work when I could have prepared a meal. I bought a slow cooker some time ago, and have recently began using it again very consistently. Whilst I definitely enjoy the act of cooking things, when it's required in order to prepare a meal later I prefer to batch-cook and reduce the amount of labour required when it's divided across meals.

Since returning from Madrid, I've been really into making chilli in my slow cooker. This is good. Combined with the increased mobility from my bicycle I've been able to retrieve supplies and cook them really effectively. A quick reflection over my cooking practices has shown that this has been key in preventing me from defaulting to delicious yet unhealthy and expensive takeaway food. The fact that I know am ok with fasting in the evenings has also contributed to this. Where I've been falling down, however, and causing myself some stress, is that I require a means of cooking the carbohydrate portion I enjoy with meals (generally rice or potatoes) whilst minimising the attention I need to pay to pots boiling over.

On a Friday and Saturday, I also treat myself to a large bag of crisps. I've largely been successful in reducing snacking, but it's been creeping back in. Some way to increase the healthiness of the snacks is required, that isn't overly labour intensive.

  1. Rice Cooker I've been banging on about getting one of these for absolutely ages. I really want one. The ability to just turn it on, and then do something else for 20 minutes whilst the rice cooks will mean the absolute world to me. Combined with my slow cooker, this would effectively reduce the cognitive effort required to plan and produce my lunchtime meals to near-zero, with delicious results.
  2. Mandolin Something I've fancied for a little while, but haven't been able to justify until recently. A Mandolin will allow me to slice vegetables really thinly, which make for good sandwiches (good for scouting missions to the cliffs), and more importantly: good for crisps. I absolutely adore crisps, to the point where I have zero portion control. If I could offset the cost of crisps to producing them myself it would be good. I am not alienated from the product and thus lose an element of consumerism, and I get a bit more control over what I put into my body. Seems like a win win.

There are various other specialist items I want, but can't quite justify yet so I won't even mention them. In terms of determining when I've earned the level, I think that a similar approach to my mobility levels will be appropriate. This probably means I can get my rice cooker soon (in fact I am going to) since I've been realllly consistent with my slow cooker this year. I've only bought lunch on special occasions, where I've already brought in my chilli! The mandolin I can get some other time, really. One thing I'd like to try and do, though, is cook something like a curry in my slow cooker. That would be a good way to make the most of it.

Home space and Minimalism

It sounds really weird to say that you want to purchase things in order to become more minimalist, and in fact that's often my problem with the diehard approaches that people take to it. This section stems, therfore, from the relationships I have with my physical space at the moment and the ones that I desire to have in the near-future.

I've always enjoyed a reconfigurability for space. I like the idea that you can make the most out of something by just shifting some things around. I also enjoy large open spaces, which is difficult when you're trapped in the smaller bedroom of a flat. Unfortunately this requires some equipment to facilitate this reconfiguration.

  1. Electronics Trolley I don't much care what the material is, but a small trolley that would replace my main desk with the ability to move would be a fantastic thing for me. Currently, I envision that this allows me to enjoy the space of my flat's communal space whilst other people are engaging with the main television there. The trolley would contain my games consoles, a space for my laptop, and a power strip; being topped by the smaller television that I essentially use as a monitor. In the mornings, I could wheel this out of my bedroom into the front room to play games whilst my partner watches netflix on my laptop, or if I wanted to work she could keep the trolley in the room whilst I took the laptop to work on.

  2. Hard drives and USB pens Having recently experienced a catastrophic drive failure, resulting in the loss of nearly all of my personal data history from 2010 -- present, this is a sore one for me. Currently, I have a 500GB external drive sat on my desk that requires power, and is pretty static. We mainly use it to watch The Simpsons of an evening, but it's useful for quick back-ups etc. My problem with it is that it takes up room, and requires a separate plug in the power strip. Replacing this with a 1TB 2.5" drive would make this more portable and require less power. It also turns out that my television can accept a USB input. With USB pens being relatively inexpensive these days, I can envision a dedicated USB pen for TV shows (ie cartoons) so that I don't need to power both my TV and laptop in order to engage in our nightly rituals. The smaller drives would allow them to be stored away in drawers for space saving as well.

  3. Futon The big one. I'm talking about a proper Japanese futon as opposed to the ones associated with Ikea (not that I have a problem with those). My reasons for this being that I find sleeping close to ground very comfortable, and there are numerous health benefits to sleeping on the floor. The futon will provide a degree of comfort in exchange for a slight reduction in health benefits (a net gain compared to a bed) but, excitingly, is designed to be rolled up and stored when not in use. This basically allows me to reclaim the space taken up by a bed, prevents me from laying on the bed during the day (and therefore not sleeping), as well as providing a nice nightly ritual that signals to me that it's bed time.

These are all relatively big purchases, and I wouldn't be making them for a little while yet. Especially since all of them explicitly require new purchases to be brought into my home. In order to level up to these things, I want to have gotten rid of swathe of things first.


I'm generally really good with clothes as I don't go clothes shopping a lot. In terms of the 'levelling up' aspect of this part of my life, though, sometimes I like to change my clothes around a bit for variety and to experiment. I don't think this is unique at all, and everyone does it. Eventually, I want to create a capsule wardrobe which I can just continually wear, and provide a lot of variety.

The main thing that I noticed when evaluating my wardrobe, however, is that I actually currently own less items of clothing than recommended by most minimalist guides! The reason for this is that I am fortunate enough to have a working environment in academia that is relatively relaxed in terms of the clothes that I wear. I've never owned a full suit, partly due to this and also partly due to the investment being useless since my body changes constantly due to training (mainly waist growth, although that's levelled off for the moment). Similarly, I've outgrown all of my old shirts and never bothered to replace them. I mainly exist in a state of switching between Workman's trousers, Cargo trousers, and a variety of tees.

Whilst happy with this, I did mention that I crave a bit more variety, and I also think that I can condense a few of my duplicate tees into a few nicer quality ones, that fit better and have been made by slightly-better-paid slave children (I joke but this really upsets me that it's difficult to escape this practice).

  1. Tees I used to by my tees from Primark due to their inexpensiveness and liking the cut. As my body has filled out thanks to push-ups the tees, even when bought larger, have begun to hang off my body in a way that I don't necessarily like all the time. I recently played with getting a plain tee from Gildan, and I like it much better. It fits good, I like the colour, and the cotton is of higher quality so it actually feels nice on my skin and I don't overheat. In future I would like to replace my Primark tees with Gildan ones, effectively collapsing the amount of tees that I have in my drawers. To illustrate, I have three of the same blue tee from Primark. I can collapse them all into a single higher quality Gildan tee. This means less clothes, but will likely mean I can wash the majority of my clothes in a single wash as opposed to only half. That appeals to me for future potential travelling.

  2. Shirts I've been trying to break into the shirt game for a while but have been put off for a number of reasons. Mainly, I don't want to invest in a nice shirt when I could outgrow it in 6 months (thanks pull-ups, you tough-yet-rewarding dickheads). Not-nice and cheap shirts make me overheat rapidly. Ideally I want about three shirts. A flannel one, and two cotton of different colours. Combined with my tees I should be able to make a fair few outfits from that.

  3. Hoodie A project I've been tossing around in my head for a little while. I currently have three hoodies; work, weekend, and training. They're all also different brands and qualities. What I would ideally like to do, is purchase a good quality build of hoodie and then modify it so that the arms zip off. This means it becomes an all-year hoodie that's modular and adaptable so I can use it for travel, training, and commuting (or wearing around the house).

This is probably the easiest part to decide when to level up. Whenever I've decided that I'm sick to death of wearing a particular set of clothes, I'll allocate some of next months' budget to condensing the wardrobe in a particular fashion.


This post has been the product of a morning's reflective journalling, and I'll likely have some leftover itches to scratch and reflect on. So I might update the post when I know more about what I want. Until then, this is more than enough to strive towards in the quest of my life :-P

reflection minimalism journalling challenge purchases budgeting levelling up

Decluttering Update

This year I've really been on a decluttering journey. I've gotten into taking a more minimalist approach to my personal space, and throwing away lots of stuff I didn't need. I think I've written about it this year already, but I can't be bothered to search for the previous posts and link them. Sorry.

I'm writing this at the end of a pretty good, purposeful week. One might think, then, that this post will be full of profound reflection and insight. Actually, I'm knackered and I can't think of what I want to write. So I'm just doing an update on my decluttering goals at the moment :-P

These efforts are, for the most part, concentrated within my bedroom. It's not bad at the moment, tbh. My partner says that "[I] have no stuff!" and that "[I] had hardly anything to begin with!". Take her words with a pinch of salt, though, as she is a clutter-bug. She loves clart. Anyway, I've completed a whole bunch of decluttering in the bedroom context:

  • Replaced a few of my low quality tees with ones of higher quality, and removed duplicate colours. (Basically halving my tees)
  • Got rid of a whole bunch of clothes I don't use
  • Learned the ranger roll and folding techniques so that all my upper body clothes fit into one half of a long drawer, and my underwear fits in the other half
  • Condensed my lower body clothes to a single set of work trousers, a single set of cargo trousers (for the weekend), and two pairs of bedtime / lounging shorts for around the house
  • Removed my branded and too-small hoodies, replacing them with an unmarked black one for simplicity.
  • Removed specialist shoes and taken to wearing a single set of medium quality hiking shoes for all occasions, as I'm lucky enough so that I don't need formal shoes.
  • Reduced the redundancy of my training gear so that it's only one set, which gets integrated into a weekend wash. It also occupies only one half of a long drawer inc. training shoes.
  • Removed or drastically reduced items in the dried food store in my cupboard, moving them to the kitchen context.
  • Moved all my craft gear into the cupboard
  • Removed my desk, and desk chair, replacing it with a small end table which holds everything and I can sit on the floor.
  • Moved my portable storage drawers to inside the cupboard and reduced items in them so that two drawers are unoccupied.
  • Removed all items from under the bed, either placing them in appropriate slots or discarding them. Bed now acts as the holding pen for my bags, which are in constant rotation so do not accumulate dust.
  • Removed posters that weren't bringing me joy.

I've also made similar efforts in the main room. Although this by its nature is limited to the presence of my bookcase. I've been removing all of the physical books for which I have a Kindle-readable copy of, providing it's of a decent formatting. I donated the books to charity. The effect was significant, and there are only two shelves occupied on my bookshelf now. To compensate for the removal of these redundant copies, I bought a USB memory stick to store regular back-ups of my digital library.

I don't know whether there should be any closing remarks, now. I guess that the only thing to say is that this is only half the battle, and that maintenance is key. Already during my decluttering phase I've bought new items -- a few books here and there, and a Hangiri. The difference is, that all these things are serving an explicit role and purpose for me (at least at the moment). I'm enjoying removing all the stuff I don't like, keeping the stuff that has purpose to me or brings me joy, and filling the place with plants.

If I do anything interesting soon I'll write about it. I don't think my landlord will help me store the bed so I can replace it with a folding futon, but we'll see.

minimalism plants declutter space updates